Director David Fincher has a thing about male obsession – he’s obsessed with the condition of men becoming so engrossed in a pursuit that their lives become dedicated to and often destroyed by their obsession. Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac focused on male characters who were fixated on the dark recesses of the mind to the point they clouded their own. To group The Social Network with his past work might seem extreme – the setting up of Facebook, the world’s largest social networking website with 500 million users, would appear on the surface to be a simple tale of a few geeks getting together wanting to make friends. But never judge a book by it’s cover, they say, and it’s fitting that Facebook harbours more dark recesses than you might expect. It’s a playground for Fincher who revels in deconstructing Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg’s creation of the website from a three-way perspective. We see the development of the site from Zuckerberg’s Harvard days spliced with discussions around two tables: both lawsuits brought against Zuckerberg as a result of his actions made taking Facebook from a dorm idea to it’s first 100 million users.
We meet Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) on a date, sitting opposite an attractive girl and things seem to be going well. However, Erica Albright (Rooney Mara) doesn’t take too kindly to Zuckerberg’s over-analysis of her every word. Smart as he is, Zuckerberg is not one for small talk and dinner soon turns sour as Erica tells him that while he might think people think he’s a “dick” because he thinks he’s a geek when the reality is he’s a nice guy trying too hard to be a “dick”. A little harsh you might think – though you might stop thinking that when you see what Zuckerberg does next. He drunken hacks into a series of Harvard house Facebooks – then a term for a private online network enabling high school students to keep in touch with their classmates – to create a Hot or Not programme to rate girls which he promptly sends round to all of Harvard leading to a network outage. He’s hauled up in front of his superiors and given a dressing down, but a trio of students see the potential he touched upon by linking up several Facebooks, leading to them sharing their idea of a Facebook for the whole of Harvard. Zuckerberg agrees to programme their site, however flashforward to a court room and we see the same trio of students suing Zuckerberg for stealing their idea while in another his best friend Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) has also filed a lawsuit. Somewhere between Zuckerberg getting commissioned to programme the original Facebook and his first million friends down the line, the geek upset the wrong people.
The Social Network deftly handles Zuckerberg’s increasing obsession with making Facebook his own, not caring who gets in his way to becoming the youngest billionaire in history.
The Social Network deftly handles Zuckerberg’s increasing obsession with making Facebook his own, not caring who gets in his way to becoming the youngest billionaire in history. Granted he never intended that to be his aim at the outset, however he is shown to have a strong personal desire to succeed both financially and with the opposite sex. Fincher suggests that break-up with Erica Albright set him on a path to appeal to women, and he soon finds success when he and his wealthy roommate Eduardo become known as the guys who made Facebook. Suddenly girls are throwing themselves at the pair. It’s not until Zuckerberg meets Napster co-creator Sean Parker (a shrewdly-cast Justin Timberlake) that the dollar signs appear and Zuckerberg gets sucked into the dotCom money machine. Going from a geek making a little mischief after being scorned by a girl to a guy who needs to understand how and why humans interact turns him into a cold-hearted and cynical businessman – a descent Fincher makes compelling.
Helped by a sharp script by Aaron Sorkin who’s best work came on The West Wing, The Social Network is funny, smart and feels remarkably accurate. Allegedly Zuckerberg claimed he liked the bits that were true – and while it’s clear not everything would have been said or done in exactly the same way as it is here, the knowledge of Facebook’s history, the lawsuits and Zuckerberg’s public appearances we bring to the film never feel misplaced by the perception we’re given on-screen. The entertaining one-liners Sorkin throws in keep the film zipping along in what is remarkable achievement by Fincher who manages to turn the history of Facebook into a frat comedy at times. This is a genuine Oscar contender with Eisenberg putting in the performance of his career.